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Daily Hampshire Gazette: Youngsters learn outdoors skills in the Conway wilderness

We’re so excited to share this article that was recently in the Daily Hampshire Gazette!

We offer thanks to Carol and Greta for coming out and capturing the magic of what we do (which we do in ALL our Programs–Summer Camps, Homeschool, Weekends of Workshops)!

 

 

Youngsters learn outdoors skills in the Conway wilderness

CONWAY — On a recent Thursday evening, 13-year-old Emmet Eichacker slept in the woods under an A-frame shelter he constructed from branches and twigs, just large enough for one person.

Sleeping on the ground outside might not sound comfortable, but Eichacker was well-rested the next day. In fact, he said, “I overslept.”

Eichacker is a leader in training with “At Home in the Woods,” a youth day camp from Earthwork Programs. As part of that training, he spent one night in the wooded area where the camp is held on Route 116 in Conway. Earthwork offers wilderness skills training for children, adults and families. It also puts on expeditions to places like Alaska and workshops on everything from animal tracking to medicinal plants.

On a recent Friday afternoon at the youth program, the campers’ “home” was in a small clearing inside a wooded section of the camp. There, kids climbed trees, carved wood, crept through the woods and wore dirt and clay as camouflage.

Tree branches served as makeshift hooks for water bottles and backpacks to dangle from. Nearby, there was a small circular shelter made from sticks in addition to Eichacker’s triangular one.

“This is like a little home away from home,” said Frank Grindrod, the director and founder of Earthwork Programs.

The weeklong youth camp, offered most weeks in the summer, teaches outdoors skills, including how to carve with a knife, build a fire, make utensils and identify wild edible plants.

In Grindrod’s outstretched hand, he held a branch with red berries on it. “This right here is a chokecherry,” he said, popping one in his mouth. The bitter berries were gathered from the forest.

“Fox walking” is a favorite skill for many campers. “It’s a stealthy way to move through the woods,” explained Serena Rooke, camp director. One walks slowly and feels the ground before putting their foot down, Rooke said, “so you’re not stepping on a stick and cracking it.”

Creeping through the forest like this, “Their brain chemistry and body changes,” Grindrod said, “Then they don’t want to be on their phone.”

Reconnecting with nature at Earthwork is a central goal. “It’s only recently that we’ve been disconnected,” he said.

“With all the anxiety and depression and things that kids are dealing with,” Grindrod said, “it totally affects them … They just become more connected with themselves.”

Building shelters like Eichacker’s is another skill campers learn, though they do not stay overnight. It’s Eichacker’s fourth year involved in programs at Earthwork, including camps and home school programs during the school year. He keeps coming back for a reason. “I get to be outside and learn skills you don’t usually get to normally learn,” he said.

Eichacker’s lives in Warren, about an hour from Conway. Joyce Eichacker, his mother, thinks the camp has taught him useful outdoors skills, and also everyday ones.

“He has learned the gift of patience. Everything about bushcraft requires a little bit of patience,” she said. “To light a fire with a bow drill,” she said, referencing a wood tool that uses friction to start a fire, “It’s not easy.”

For Grindrod too, the camp’s goals go beyond outdoors skills.

“EarthWork is really about mentoring people through the challenges in life … in a way that basically develops self-reliance and self-worth and respect for the environment and themselves,” he said.

Not a ‘normal camp’

Nearly 20 years ago, Grindrod started Earthwork Programs. “I thought I could add value to people’s lives. And I could help the earth,” he recalled.

His interest in nature started early in life. Growing up, Grindrod’s father would tell him a story about his late aunt, who would hand-feed birds. “That’s impossible. They’d be afraid of her,” he recalled thinking. “Then I was like, ‘OK, well what if it is true?’”

Around age 9, he started to test it and spend more time outside. Eventually, the birds did eat from his hand. “Then I had a fever for just finding every possible way to connect with nature,” he said.

He worked at a wilderness camp for five years, starting as an intern and working his way to assistant director. He also trained with Tom Brown, a well-known naturalist and tracker. Then, Grindrod decided to start his own camp, Earthwork.

Now, he’s publishing a book about how to start a wilderness camp with Storey Publishing, a company in North Adams, that is slated for release in the fall.

In addition to its summer youth camp, which costs between $350 and $410 for the week, Earthwork offers a Friday outdoors program for homeschoolers and themed weekends of programming for families. Adults can take workshops like “The Art of Fire” and “The Skill of the Knife.” The organization also takes people on outdoors trips. Grindrod recently got back from leading an expedition in Alaska, for example, where he taught leadership training.

At the “home” in the woods earlier this summer, a group of young people sat with their knives carving wooden spoons while their instructors stood by watching. Liam Wallace, an 11-year-old leader in training, explained that coals from the fire are used to burn the wood and then it’s carved with a knife. He made a wooden spoon at Earthwork and has used it at home for soup, he said

Wallace has been coming to the camp for several years. “You get to do things you wouldn’t at a normal camp,” he said.

Jude Dan, 7, also worked diligently on his spoon with a knife. He said he’s itching to go on a backpacking trip and his newfound carving skills would come in handy.

Nearby, first-time camper Quinn Bonham, 7, sat carving his spoon.

Did he like the outdoors before? “Barely,” Bonham said. Even at the end of the week, he said, “I don’t like camping, I like staying in hotels.”

As Grindrod sees it, the adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” applies to outdoor education. “One of the things about being a mentor is that you salt the oats through storytelling and inspiring experiences and sensory involvement and developing awareness to where all the sudden, they want to drink — they want to learn about this plant … they want to learn more about the story of this particular animal.”

That seemed to be working. Sitting on the ground focused on their carvings, their hands sooty and faces dirty with camouflage, the campers looked happy.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

fire frank grindrod wilderness skills

Get Your Free Online Survival Course Now…Happy Holidays!

New Membership Online Courses!

Wow! Earthwork Programs is excited to announce its new membership site, where we will be offering online survival courses!

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR ONLINE SURVIVAL COURSE TODAY

RIGHT NOW FOR 30 DAYS WE’RE OFFERING THIS FREE 5-WEEK COURSE

If you’ve wanted to attend our Programs but haven’t been able to physically attend, these courses are for you!

A Free Online Survival Course

As a gift for you and your loved ones, Frank has put together a free five-week online course! You’ll learn:

  • fire safety
  • the 5 stages of fire
  • what materials are needed to start a fire
  • proper extinguishment
  • and more!

All you have to do is register with your first name and email address, and you’ll receive 5-weeks of lessons!

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fire making wilderness skills

Winter Living and Ice Safety

Are you ready for New England weather?

When cold temperatures are sustained, bodies of water freeze. This creates a new environment for both humans and wildlife to adapt to. Travel is made easier, though precarious, on ice-covered lakes. Games are created, and the ice becomes a playground for ice-hockey and ice-skating. People still need to eat, and fish is still readily available, as long as you can create a hole in the ice for ice-fishing. Be safe–the ice can be unpredictable if you don’t know how to read it. So safety first: check out our blog for research and videos (the best I have seen).

(These videos may not be suitable for very young children…parents may want to view videos first.)

I’m Lost! Hike Turns to Wilderness Survival Experience (Part 2)

stop We last left off where I was lost and signaling for help and integrating my S.T.O.P plan of action. (S=Stop; T=Think; O=Observe; P=Plan)

sun compassSo after working on signaling with sound, I decide to make a sun compass. Time is important right now so I only take 3 minutes to put this together. I get a straight branch and place it in the ground and mark the tip of it where the shadow ends with another shorter stick. The next part of the sun compass is time. As the shadow moves every 15 minutes, I mark it again. This allows me to form an accurate read on the sun’s trajectory and gives me an east/west line while getting other things done.

Off in the distance I hear the call of a woodpecker; I have an intuitive hit that this is important somehow but not sure at the moment. Birds are excellent allies because they know their place and are specialists and depending on the type of bird will indicate habitat.

A New Paradigm in Being LOST
There’s a lot of “charge” in the word “lost”; so much focus on the psychological fear of being lost. Things arise in the mind, like “I’m not going to have enough water, warmth or food.” This is a fear of the unknown. Let’s shift our paradigm about being “lost”.

Indigenous people all over the world lived (and live) so close to the earth that they did not call what they did on a daily basis survival. They did not consider where they lived “wilderness”; something separate from their lives. Historical research in ethnobotany as well as speaking to the native peoples directly, has taught us that it wasn’t about being lost, it was about “being”; it was not about surviving, it’s about “living.”

We can learn from this recognition of a close relationship to the land. In this paradigm, you are part of the forest. If you are at home in the woods, you are never truly lost. Knowing your place, the plants and wildlife as part of your community is what will nurture a healthy at-home mindset where ever you are.

Thinking of the forest as “home” starts by knowing your plants and their uses. What parts of them are edible, medicinal, and in what season? What edible plants have poisonous look-alikes and what are clues to proper identification? What trees are good for firewood, for tinder? As you get to know your plant neighbors, they become your allies in better understanding the habitat you are in.

Building a Shelter and Knowing Ecology
Pine TreeAs I scan the land and see what it has to teach me, I notice an area where there are a lot of small pines, and interspersed are large pines, 80 to 100 feet high. Why is this important? Because pines decompose slower, and they accumulate a huge layer of the debris that forms a thick mat. This is exactly what I’m looking for to create that insulative layer in the form of a sleeping bag. Clustered together they create a natural shelter from wind and rain while allowing sun exposure because the branches die off near the bottom. All of these decisions play a role in location; that’s why it is requires skill to be able to read the land.

I will not camp directly under the great pines where the bark is peeling and are probably infested with ants. That was what “that little bird told me.” The woodpecker’s activity tells me the tree is rotten inside and could become a potential blowdown hazard. I don’t want a tree falling on me. Also, lightning can strike the same place more than once so I am scanning for lightning scars.

Location! Location! Location!
Earlier, my sun compass lets me know how much light I have left to work with and this is crucial since I need to set my priorities. I choose my site and start building. It is very important to be able to read the land topography. A great shelter in a poor location equals a bad shelter; as the saying goes “Location. Location. Location.”

There are clues on the land to know where water pools even though the site looks inviting. By learning what plants grow in moist or wet soil, you learn that even when there is no water present, the plants tell you of a tendency towards moist soil conditions, hence, do not build your shelter in that spot. For example, when you see moss on the ground you know the soil will be damp. So I need to continue searching for a drier area.

leave shelterleave shelter young girlNatural-Shelter-fix 

Building My Shelter

I start with two leg-sized diameter logs, a little longer than my height laying down. Make them parallel like train tracks, which creates a container for all the small sticks I quickly throw into the middle, making a raised bed. This is vital for staying warm because you need to create a layer of dead air space between you and the ground as insulation. The reason is that the Earth is bigger than you are and the heat from your body will transfer to the Earth; this is called conduction. This is how you get cold from laying on the ground even if you are out of the wind. My bed is made out of a jumble of sticks and a thick layer of needles and leaves. This is really “comfy”; I’m not kidding!

Telling Time by the Sun
Marking the shadow on the sun compass again, I measure with my hand how much light I have left. With this method, each finger width represents 15 minutes; a full hand is an hour. I follow the path of the sun with my hand, and I realize I have 3 hours of light.

Since I used the S.T.O.P rule and stopped early enough in the day, I have plenty of time and light to take care of all of my basic needs, and even wander from my anchor point.

The Importance in Developing Skills and Training
I have slept out before when practicing making shelters and sleeping in them throughout the year to hone my skills. I have slept in home-made shelters under clear skies, rain, snow and freezing temperatures. My record lowest temperature is 15° below freezing in February with no fire while wearing jeans, fleece top, rain coat and hiking boots. This was to simulate for me a lost-hiker scenario. After teaching many classes on wilderness living skills and survival, I have the confidence and skills and freedom to be at home in the woods and not afraid of being lost. My hands-on knowledge enables me to share my personal experience so others can have confidence when they are learning and gain that sense of freedom.

Home Away from Home
Frank-FireIt is an amazing sensation being deep in the forest surrounded by the night with a glowing campfire for warmth and companionship. Everything is done! I have created my home away from home – a bed and shelter that keeps me warm enough even without a fire; my plastic bag to catch rain, dew, and drinking water; my sun compass for navigation, a safe fire location and firewood comprised of tree species that throw lots of heat, light and will burn long and steady over time.

Enjoying the experience of the setting sun, the sound of the owls in the trees, and crackle of a bright, warm fire, there is a real peace that washes over me. This is a gift to experience and learn from. I am camping; thriving, not just surviving.

It took me getting lost to truly find the gift of the present moment.

“The Pharmacy Is All Around Us”

On November 11, 2013, Frank Grindrod made his first primetime appearance! Here’s the segment from Chronicle, Main Streets episode (you can scroll in about 2:49 minutes to see Frank’s portion about wild edibles; or you can watch the whole segment to see some of our community).

Wild Edibles with Frank Grindrod of Wilderness Survival Training School Earthwork Programs in the Hills of western mass from Frank Grindrod on Vimeo.

Wild Edibles & Medicinal Plants

LEARNING FROM THE PAST AND PRESENT

There are many different plants that offer potential foods for us to experience. Our ancestors all over the world remind us to share a deep relationship with plants and the importance of a sacred balance. There are cultural tracks left behind for us to follow and learn this deep knowledge that may come directly from indigenous elders around the globe as well as a plethora of information in Ethnobotany and wild food literature.

I have had an opportunity to study with a number of authors and specialists and have integrated foraging into my life for more than a decade. These wild foragers, each coming from there own unique perspective, share many commonalities – passion for sharing their love of plants, eating wild food as a lifestyle, and the tremendous depth of knowledge they share. I have been able to integrate many of their best practices so as to add to the living book of eating wild.

Inspiring foragers with whom I have trained with include: Doug Elliot, Sam Thayer, Arthur Haines, Blanche Cybele Derby, Rosemary Gladstar, Walt Gigandet, Russ Cohen and John Kallas

As people discovered the gift of fire, many parts of the plants became available as food. It has been scientifically documented that the nutritional value in wild plants is beyond their cultivated counterparts.

There are many cycles in the natural world, and many of our classes are designed by what is available during these seasons. These cycles are all different in what they yield with many species of plants and the many parts, such as;

• seeds,
• shoots,
• corms,
• rhizomes,
• petioles,
• leaves,
• biennial stalks,
• buds,
• flowers,
• pollen.

The forager knows this and looks forward to the amazing diversity of food available in early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, early fall, late fall, and even into the winter. Through this knowledge, we learn to develop a personal relationship with these plants and the special places that they grow.

THE NEED IS GREAT RIGHT NOW TO EAT LOCAL

For ultimate health and wellness, eating WILD is the best health care insurance you can have. With these changing times that we are living in, it is important to supplement our cultivated harvest, supporting our local farmers, with a WILD harvest.

Wild Edibles

BOOKS ARE GREAT RESOURCES BUT DIRECT EXPERIENCE WITH A KNOWLEDGEABLE PERSON IS INVALUABLE.

Earthwork Programs has designed a Wild Edibles and Medicinal Plant IMMERSION SERIES to share this valuable knowledge. Join us for this unique experience in WILD FOOD and allow it to complement your current culinary habits and lifestyle.

 

Seeing WILD Life…Who Is Watching Whom?

WildernessWinter has come and gone, and spring is clearly unfolding: the birdsong, the wildflowers, the bursting of shoots braking through the Earth’s surface in fertile ground, the trees leafing out, the warmer days as frogs sing, and then in the spring, showers are coming as the ice melts off the mountains, bringing it down through the rivers. It’s a powerful time of change.

My daughter and I–with binoculars in hand and our favorite walking stick, backpack filled with food, water and a couple of field guides, map and first aid kit–venture into the forest, as the sun rises, with a goal of seeing wildlife and not being seen. We move quietly through the deep forest, moving like a ghost, invisible as best we can while using the Indian sign language we have been practicing.

We are so blessed to be in the middle of a magical place with such a rich diversity as we are in southern New England…a world where the boreal forest and the northern forest meet, giving us the best place to be immersed in nature. The boreal forest, also known as “the spruce-moose forest,” has mainly evergreen trees and a few select hardwoods like poplar, paper birch, tamarack and others. The northern hardwoods have such a vast amount of trees like yellow birch, sugar maple, American beech, eastern hemlock, white pine, northern red oak, cherry, and those are just a few—there are many more.

As we trek deeper into the forest, we notice the dense canopy not letting in much sunlight as the sun rises out of the east, giving us a sense of direction, but our awareness tunes into a subtle change, and as we enter, there is more light shining down on us than just a minute earlier. This is a track on a large scale that is affecting how much light which helps to make a more rich forest in vegetation and brings with it many animals and birds and the like. With our senses honed, there are signs of the animals all around us. We notice claw marks and bites on trees, stunted growth where it looks like a nursery of Japanese bonsai trees, and when we look down in the leaf litter, there are many footfalls showing worn-in paths on the forest floor, weaving in and out of the cliffs.

Passing through different habitats, we see the many deciduous leaves and all the light that shines creates a dappled look under our feet and in the area between the wetland and the cliffs. There is a lot of feeding sign called browse (little 45-degree angle cuts), taking the end of the branch clean off, almost like clippers.

Place to hide?As we expand our awareness to the area high up on the cliff, we see a good hiding place opposite of the spot we want to watch. Scanning for signs of movement, we hope to get a glance of this very elusive animal who chooses the south-facing, hard-to-access areas in the cliffs. We have already done our research; we know this animal is crepuscular, which means it is active at twilight hours (dawn and dusk). It is diurnal (day) and nocturnal (night).

Another place?Its primary food source has left sign with the angled cut that we found earlier, so we know there is a feeding area in close view. One of the traits of this animal is the ability to be motionless for long periods; even in winter, being able to lay in the snow where you can find a sphinx-like “hunting bed” while it waits to ambush its prey. To discover this body print melted out from the heat that is generated while it remains still as a shadow is inspiring! As we get down low, we find sections of hair frozen to the ice; however this time of year, you want to look for “resting beds;” places where you can make out where it has been laying down, usually under a rock overhang on a pile of leaves insulating from the ground.

resting placeThe forest is so quiet. My daughter and I take turns to scan the cliffs with our glasses. We have been watching, quietly, for almost an hour and a half. We know that patience always pays off. We also know that this animal has a very small heart and it travels a very short range compared to others of its size. By knowing this, we also could watch it hunt as it stalks its prey since it is primarily a carnivore.

While looking near the top where we have been looking all morning, in the best rays of light, we see movement–a very camouflaged tawny color with dark shades and beautiful markings, big eyes and graceful movement as we watch it stretch basking in the suns glow. It has been there all this time…watching us watching for her. So who’s watching whom? While studying us, perhaps, she senses we are not a threat.

It is time to hunt. Her preferred prey, the rabbit, helps to sustain her but also helps raising her kittens. If you haven’t guessed by now, the mystery animal is the bobcat.

bobcat babyAs we watch our cat in her natural rhythm, we are excited because we may be able to watch her hunt. Earlier we mentioned how she lies in wait in “hunting beds.” Once the prey is close enough, there is an explosion of energy–a POUNCE! From her ambush spot, bursting forth after the rabbit who has zigzagging motion to avoid capture. There is a very small window of time because she needs to not burn too much energy; if the hunt lasts longer than just minutes, she will stop rest, find another spot and start again and continue that cycle.

This bobcat needs to eat and feed her new kittens, and when she has the rabbit, she will take it to a place close by to hide it and take parts of the animal and “cache” (cover and save for later) the rest, using her front paws very much the same as our house cats. She will travel back and forth to feed her young if she has gotten a good amount of food. She will continue to hunt this area because of the success.

Thanks for joining us on our adventure into the outdoors.

Until next time happy trails…

Winter survival focus of talk | masslive.com

Winter survival focus of talk

Published: Thursday, February 03, 2011, 10:30 AM Updated: Wednesday, February 09, 2011, 9:32 AM

By Kathryn Roy

While they occurred more than two years ago, the ice storms of 2008 reverberate in the minds of Western Massachusetts residents whose lives were turned upside down due to the extreme weather.

Residents in the hilltowns and other areas across the Pioneer Valley were left without power for days.

The incident reminded Frank Grindrod of Williamsburg-based Earthwork Programs of the importance of knowing winter emergency skills, both inside and outside the home.

Earthwork offers emergency preparation talks, emergency survival and self-sufficiency workshops all over the region.

Grindrod, Earthwork’s founder and director, said the ice storms taught that being prepared for any weather-related emergency is essential if you live in New England.

If a weather forecast indicates a big winter storm is approaching, that’s the time to start preparing. Homeowners who have wells should gather bottled water for sanitation and cooking, in the event that their wells are inoperable due to a loss of power.

“We go through the house and talk about how to utilize your home if you don’t have power,” Grindrod said of his classes. “Some people have a generator, but a lot of people don’t realize your heater may not work on a generator, or you have to plug it into whatever unit you’re using.”

While most people have cordless phones these days, Grindrod said it’s important to have a corded phone as well.

“When the power goes out, those cordless phones stop working,” Grindrod pointed out. “Even though you still may have a line to your house, you want to get an emergency land line phone so you still have use of your phone in the event of a power outage.”

Grindrod recommends that in the event of a power outage or other emergency, residents need to become aware of their surroundings and to be able to accurately assess the situation.

“With that land line, you can call the electric company to report the outage and get an estimate on when it will be turned back on,” he said. “You may have someone down the road from you who doesn’t have power, even if you haven’t lost yours or if yours has been restored.”

Grindrod said with the 2008 ice storms, there were elderly and disabled people who weren’t able to take care of themselves and needed help, but no one knew of their situation.

“Some of them died; some of them used the stove in their house like a camp stove and got carbon monoxide poisoning,” he said.

Grindrod also recommends being prepared for emergencies when traveling. Cars should be stocked with water, non-perishable snacks, blankets, decent gloves, a flashlight and flares.

“If your car goes off the side of the road, one thing you have to think about is, ‘Do I stay in my car or do I leave my car?'” he said. “If a plow is coming through, you might have to leave your car if you’re in a place where you might get hit.”

Those who stay in their car should only run the engine as the car is cooling off. They should also get out and clear any snow out of, and around, the exhaust pipe.

“If you’re going to run your car, you want to make sure you crack your windows and always have blankets,” Grindrod said.

When traveling in wintry weather, or going out in the woods to hike or hunt, it’s a good idea to give friends or family an estimated time of arrival and a phone number.

“If you have a situation where someone is lost, the quicker you’re able to alert search and rescue or EMS, the quicker they’re going to be found,” he said.

In his classes, Grindrod talks about how to be prepared to survive three days in the wilderness. At home, the preparedness is different.

“Our focus is about having some basic skills to be confident and to be comfortable; it’s about knowing what to do and being able to take care of your kids at the same time,” he said. “You could try to play games with your kids, to see if you can do without power for three hours or so at home.”

To learn more about Grindrod’s talks and workshops, visit www.earthworkprograms.com or call (413) 522-0338.

Earthwork Programs will also travel throughout the Pioneer Valley to offer workshops for larger groups.

via Winter survival focus of talk | masslive.com.

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